Cooking with Kay: Canning helps preserve the last bit of summer

By Kay Harrod Published:

With Labor Day approaching, summer’s bounty will be quickly disappearing. Fall produce will replace the crops of tomatoes and corn.

My Saturday shopping at the Farmers Market was my wake-up call when Susan and Bobby Hutcherson told me their supply of canning tomatoes was diminishing.

“Oh, no, say it isn’t so.”

I’ve been so busy traveling and entertaining, I have not had the opportunity to do the small amount of canning I normally like to do when August rolls around.

I always want to “put up,” as canners say, at least a dozen quarts of tomatoes for my winter soups and stews. As far as I am concerned home canned tomatoes make all the difference in the world as far as flavor enhancement goes for these dishes.

I longingly looked around the market and thought of all the beautiful vegetables still available and vowed I would return this week. There are still so many “summer” recipes I want to make before all this freshness is gone.

While I sat this weekend visiting with my lifelong friend Penny, I began to pull out recipes that I have designated best made in summer.

But one recipe was already on my mind and it’s one I had not made in the past three years – Red Pepper Relish.

When I make it I normally wait until August when red bell peppers are cheaper. As fate would have it my grocery had them on sale last week at 50 cents each – big, beautiful and bright red. Bell peppers were also the same price at the Farmers Market, but there were not enough red available for my recipe.

In fact, since I love the relish so much as do many of my friends, I decided to purchase enough peppers to make two batches.

Plus, I am such an opportunist. Penny had offered to clean and dice the peppers for me – the chore I hate most about making the relish.

The late Gladys Shelton gave the recipe to me. The first time I had it was on a grilled hamburger with a big slice of onion. Oh, my. I was in love. Then came a grilled hot dog and I was hooked.

In fact, the handwritten recipe I have from Gladys touts the relish as delicious on a grilled burger. However, several friends of mine love this recipe on dried beans and bean soups. My own discovery is how well it goes with fried potatoes.

The only way I am going to enjoy it is if I make it, since I know no one personally who makes this delicacy.

So for two days Penny has been chopping peppers for the recipe – nine cups per batch. We’re trying to get at least one batch made before she returns to Oklahoma since she wants to return with a couple of jars that are the result of her labors.

In addition, the recipe calls for ripe red tomatoes and large firm onions, both of which I found at the market.

Outside of chopping peppers, tomatoes and onions, this recipe is a snap. You definitely do not have to be a veteran canner to make it. Its ease is one of the things I find most appealing about canning it.

The other thing you can expect when you cook it is a fragrant aroma that will fill your home and perhaps take you back to the days when someone in your family canned relishes and pickles.

Here are some basics about making this recipe you will need to know.

This recipe will make 8-10 half pints. Pints will also work. Have your jars and rings washed and hot. Before putting the mixture into the jars, heat a small pot of water and place the lids into it.

In case you are a canning novice, the easiest way to peel tomatoes is to bring a pot of water to a boil and drop the tomatoes in for about a minute. Then remove them and submerge them in ice water for a few minutes. Doing this certainly makes them easier to peel. Core the tomatoes and peel. This method also works well for peeling peaches for canning, pies or cobblers.

GLADYS SHELTON CALIFORNIA PEPPER RELISH

9 or 10 large red bell peppers or you can mix red and green, seeded and chopped

3 tablespoons salt – I used Kosher, but you can also use pickling salt

6 large fresh tomatoes, peeled and chopped

2 large onions, peeled and chopped

2 tablespoons pickling spice - Put the spices into a piece of muslin or thin cotton and tie with a string. Then take a hammer and crush the spices so they will release their flavors.

3 cups sugar

1 cup cider vinegar

Preparation: After the peppers have been chopped, transfer them to a large glass or plastic bowl and sprinkle the salt over them, stir. Let peppers sit on counter for three hours and stir occasionally.

In the meantime you can prepare the tomatoes, onions and spices.

Drain the peppers in a colander. Let stand in the colander for about 20 minutes to ensure all the liquid is removed.

In a heavy kettle put the peppers, onions and tomatoes. Add the sugar and vinegar and stir mixture together. Add the spice bag. Bring the mixture to a boil, stirring a couple of times. Reduce heat to medium and allow to boil 30 to 45 minutes, stirring often to keep it from sticking. Turn off heat.

Ladle the relish into the hot jars; wipe off any excess from top of jar. Place the hot lids and rings on the jar and seal (twist tight).

Sit the jars on a counter or table where they can remain until cool – several hours. You will hear little pops as the jars seal. Once the jars have cooled, press on tops to make sure they are sealed. If any are not, place them in the refrigerator. But I have never had a jar that did not seal; some are just slower than others.

A RECIPE FROM A FUNNY LADY

Last week one of my favorite comediennes, Phyllis Diller, passed away. She was 95. She was a trailblazer for women stand-up comics and I loved her self-deprecating humor.

Since November 1962 I have kept a recipe I clipped from the Courier-Journal. According to the article, Chicago’s Ambassador East Hotel, changed its Scalloped Oyster Recipe when Diller gave the chef of the Rump Room her recipe.

Today, in honor of one of the funniest women I knew, I hope you enjoy having it.

SCALLOPED OYSTERS A LA DILLER

2 dozen fresh or frozen oysters (I use fresh found in the seafood case)

¾ cup crumbled soda crackers, plus 1/3 cup more for the top

2 tablespoons butter, plus a bit more for top crumbs and to butter the dish

One cup heavy cream

½ cup sherry wine

½ cup chopped celery

One tablespoon chopped parsley. I use a little more.

1/8 teaspoon paprika

1/8 teaspoon oregano

½ teaspoon salt

½ teaspoon pepper (This is my addition)

Preparation: Drain oysters. Cook chopped celery in small amount of boiling water, just until tender. Grease casserole well with butter. Place layer of oysters in the bottom.

Blend the cracker crumbs with the butter, paprika, oregano, salt and pepper. Spread a layer of this mixture over oysters and then the celery and chopped parsley.

(The original recipe says alternate layers until all ingredients are used, but if you use a 9x12 baking dish, there is only enough for one layer.)

Pour cream and sherry over the top and sprinkle with additional buttered cracker crumbs.

Bake in a 350-degree oven for about 20 minutes, until hot and bubbly. Just like Phyllis, I say!

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  • I just now noticed that there was no mention of processing the relish in a hot water bath.